AFP reports on the 12-year-long Freedom for Öcalan Vigil in Strasbourg

The French news agency AFP reported on the 12-year-long Freedom Vigil in front of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg for the freedom of Kurdish People's Leader Abdullah Öcalan.

On the 25th anniversary of the international conspiracy against Abdullah Öcalan, which led to his abduction from Kenya and handover to Turkey on 15 February 1999, AFP reported on the vigil launched by the Freedom for Abdullah Öcalan Initiative on 25 June 2012 in Strasbourg to demand freedom of the Kurdish People's Leader and an end to the isolation imposed on him.

“They are there whatever the weather, whatever the circumstances: for 12 years, members of the Kurdish community have been taking turns outside the Council of Europe to demand the release of their historic leader, Abdullah Öcalan, who is imprisoned in Turkey. They are seated on plastic chairs, with a blanket on their knees and coffee and tea to brave the cold. All around them were flags and placards bearing portraits of the founder of the PKK, the Kurdistan Workers' Party (classified as a terrorist organisation by the EU and Turkey), and his recognisable logo, a red star on a yellow background,” said the report.

"It's an honour for us to take part in this vigil," said Brusk Weran, 34, who came from Hanover in Germany, where he has refugee status. "Conditions are not easy every day, but we mustn't forget our friends who are fighting in more difficult conditions than we are for this cause."

Like him, every week since 2012, three to five activists have taken it in turns to perpetuate this vigil. Locally, two people oversee the action, and visiting members are accommodated in a flat provided by the local community.

"People come from all over Europe, from England, Switzerland and Italy", explains Hélène Erin, a member of the Kurdish People's Democratic Centre in Strasbourg. "The associations know when it's their turn and they send someone. Every Sunday, it changes."

The location was not chosen at random: the vigil is set up opposite the Council of Europe and its Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT), which regularly visits places of detention.

In 2014, the European Court of Human Rights, the judicial arm of the Council of Europe, condemned Turkey, finding in particular that life imprisonment was contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights, and that the isolation of Abdullah Öcalan, the only prisoner in Imrali between 1999 and 2009, had constituted "inhuman treatment". Since 2009, a handful of other prisoners have joined him there.

The CPT has visited the prison several times, most recently in 2022, but its report has not been made public. More generally, four of the six reports concerning Turkey since 2016 have not been published, contrary to usual practice.

"The CPT can only publish after the authorities of the country concerned have given their authorisation, which has not yet happened for these reports", a spokesperson told AFP.

In the last document published in 2019, the CPT stated that it had not received any reports of ill-treatment, and that the material conditions of detention were "generally satisfactory".

However, the institution criticised the "unacceptable" regime imposed on the detainees, who are held in solitary confinement for 159 out of 168 hours a week, and expressed concern about the restrictions on visits to the prison by lawyers or relatives. Abdullah Öcalan's entourage has had no news of him since March 2021, and the last interview with his lawyers dates back to 2019.

"The CPT's reports mention numerous violations and call on Turkey to make changes", deplored Faik Yagizay, representative of the Kurdish party (HDP, People's Democracy Party) at the Council of Europe. "Unfortunately, the other bodies of the Council of Europe, in particular the Committee of Ministers, have not acted in this direction and Turkey has never been sanctioned".

To renew their demand for the release of their leader, and to encourage the international community to work towards a "political solution to the Kurdish question", a conference is being organised in Strasbourg on Thursday, before a major European demonstration in Cologne (Germany) on Saturday.